Reflection: 05-11

It seems rather fitting, as things happened to take place, that I should read The Holy Rule of St Benedict as my last reflection before my ordination to the priesthood. The reason for this somewhat ironic situation continues in that the focus on our retreat this year is on New Monasticism. (And, honestly, I didn’t plan this. Things have been such a blur that I didn’t realize it was my last reflection before ordination until I had finished the book!) So it is interesting to compare St Benedict’s rule for his monks to what we are and do in the Lindisfarne Community. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I’m sure glad I’m a part of Lindisfarne and not a monk in St Benedict’s time!

One of the big differences between our Rules and Understandings and that of St Benedict is we include women. And by that I don’t mean that we just ‘allow’ them to be part of the community - but women hold high offices of service within the community (our Abbess is a Bishop).

Apparently, all of the religious in Benedict’s community were male, since he only refers to men and young men in the Rule. The ‘role of women’ in ministry is still such a big issue in Christendom right now (though we could say that homosexuals in ministry get more headlines). While we have moved passed the issue of women being ‘allowed’ in the religious or monastic community, we have still fallen short when it comes to equality within most of our faith communities.

Let me state this as plainly as I can: Women should be (need to be) given equal place in our communities of faith. They should hold all offices of service. Without exception. I believe with all of my heart that we have been somewhat crippled without women in leadership roles within our communities. If, according to St Paul, there really is no difference between men and women in Christ (Galatians 3.28, CEB), then we are without excuse. Since Jesus ‘reversed the curse’ of Genesis 3 (see Galatians 3.13, CEB), then it is shameful that some [most] of our spiritual communities continue to keep women out of leadership roles.

While there were several other things I didn’t like about St Benedict’s Rule (corporal punishment, the beating of children, the eating of meat, etc.), there were several things that I did like. Here’s one:

Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar (pg. 21).

I like this because it shows that the monk was to see no difference between the  ‘common vessels’ of the monastery and ‘sacred vessels’ of the altar. In other words, he was to treat all things as if they were sacred. The ‘holy place’ was not just at the altar but the entire monastery. Likewise, we too, should not just see our community worship places as a ‘holy place’ but we should see all of creation as a ‘holy place’. The fact that we treat the world poorly (and not just the world but our neighbors - be they human or animal) shows us that we don’t see them as sacred. We need to recapture this way of seeing. I truly believe that the hope for our planet - for all of creation - is to adopt this way of seeing. St Paul stated ‘creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains’ (Romans 8.22, CEB) and that it’s waiting ‘breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters’ (Romans 8.19, CEB). In other words, since we are ‘God’s coworkers’ (1Corinthians 3.9, CEB), the reconciliation of the planet, the redemption of creation, is up to us. It is our responsibility to work toward healing our planet. And this will come only when we see it just as sacred as we do our Bibles, our churches, the vessels of our altars. Whatever we deem as sacred, we need to see all of creation with that same care and reverence.

Another ‘rule’ I liked was this one:

Let all things be common to all, as it is written. And let no one call or take to himself anything as his own (cf Acts 4.32; pg 22).

This is quite telling as well, especially when we read the passage referenced:

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need (Acts 4.32-35; CEB).

(This passage was one of the Lectionary readings recently and one of the priests from the Lindisfarne Community posted a reflection on it. If you have some time, I recommend going over to Water Stone Blogs and take a gander at his reflection and join the conversation.)

I think this, too, is something that we desperately need to recapture in our day. Too often, we seem to only have the ‘This is mine!’ mentality and not a great deal of concern for the needs of others, even within our own families. This saddens me. And I’m just as guilty as the next person. But there are two things going on here: the sharing and the need. Often times, we just emphasise the sharing part. The way the early followers of Christ ‘held everything in common’ and sold possessions and property to meet the needs of the people. And that’s good and we need to do this. Can we even imagine if we actually lived that way? Can we picture the impact and difference for good this would have on creation around us? I think the possibilities are almost limitless.

But here is something we don’t really emphasize in this passage - the need. How did everyone else know what everyone else’s need was? They had to tell each other. Why don’t we do that today? Are we too proud to let people know how things really are in our lives, in our daily situations? Even when people are homeless and wandering around in need of shelter and food, often they don’t really tell people their need. I think a lot of it comes down to two issues: embarrassment and (bad) experiences. We all know about embarrassment and that plays a major role in why we don’t ‘let people in’. But I think a bigger issue is that we have seen what happens when people are truly trying to be open and honest about their situations.

In a lot of my experiences at various churches, when someone asks how things are going, they’re just making small talk. They don’t really want to know how things are going. And this is seen when you actually start telling them how things are honestly going. ‘Well, Bill, things are really bad. I’ve lost my job and the bills keep piling up. We just don’t seem to have enough to make ends meet. We are having to decide...’ It’s usually about this time that ‘Bill’ (or whomever) says something like, ‘That’s too bad. You should really talk to the pastor about that’. Now, while that’s a great idea, it’s not really honest. ‘Bill’ asked how things were but it seems that he doesn’t really want to be bothered with it. So, after a while, people will just stop telling ‘Bill’ or anyone else what’s really going on. And that, my friends, is exactly where we are today. Our churches are full of hurting people. People who are at the end of the proverbial rope and they won’t (or can’t) tell anyone.

Or, perhaps I’m being too cynical. Maybe the real issue is that we don’t know how to respond. Or, maybe the deeper issue is that we do know how to respond but we either just don’t want to or we don’t have the means to help. Actually, I think that all three are very real possibilities. (There could even be more categories than this.) I’m sure that there are some people who don’t really care. They’re just doing what they think they’re supposed to do. Next, I think there are people who really don’t want to help. They know they’re supposed to, but they fall into that ‘This is mine’ category. But I think most of us fall into the last category - we know what we are supposed to do, but we don’t have the means to help. Or so we think. I think all of us can help in various different ways. That’s the thing. Maybe we aren’t part of a community where we can sell everything and, taking the money, distribute it to those in need. But if we can actually give them a room to stay in in exchange for help around the house? Or give them some food (I mean, we are planning on eating at some point, right?) in exchange for working in the garden? You get the idea. Maybe we can’t sell everything we have, but maybe we can sell somethings we have. What if we opened up that type of conversation in our local communities and see what flourishes? What if all that it takes for us to recapture this idea of community is to just plant the seed in someone else’s ear?

‘Well, that’s socialism and that’s bad. People will just take advantage of us and not help out.’ Those are genuine concerns and would need to be addressed. But these issues aren’t new. They were addressed by the same communities that ‘held everything in common’  (see 2Thessalonians 3.6-15; cf. Romans 14).

But here’s one other issue about this whole thing - trust. The passage states, ‘Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles’. Now days, more and more of us would think, ‘There’s no way I would do that. How do I know that those in leadership would take care of it? How do I know that they would distribute it the way I think it should be distributed?’ Again, those are good questions. But at some point in our lives, we have to start trusting people. We aren’t in charge of our lives, no matter how much we try and tell ourselves we are (a quick illness shows us that). When we are learning a trade or going to school, we trust our instructors. They know more about the issue that we do, thus the reason we are learning from them.

But, this ties in with the previous point. Our trust of the distribution to those in need would be a lot easier if we were all open and honest - if things were transparent, on the table. If we had places of safety were we could be completely open and honest about our needs and our gifts, we may be able to actually start living that type of community.

And may it begin with us.

In the Love of the Three in One,
Jack+, LC

* Common English Bible (CEB); Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible.


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